Name That Candidate
MY excitement at the news that Senator Chris Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, is considering a bid for president in 2008 is easy to explain: his name has enormous rhyming potential. We all have our own issues.
Rhyme is not my only one; I am also intensely interested in meter. I happen to be a deadline poet, responsible for commenting on the events of the day in verse. Someone in my position tends to see Ross Perot and John McCain as two peas in a pod — blessedly iambic candidates with nearly unlimited rhyming possibilities. During my 16 years in the deadline poetry game, though, we've had nobody with a name like Ross Perot or John McCain in the White House. I've had to deal with presidents whose names are an affront to rhyme and meter. Given the rhyming difficulties of Bill Clinton's name, in fact, I believe future historians will think of him as the "orange" of American presidents.
It's not as if a deadline poet has an easy lot to begin with. Obviously there are those constant deadlines. Without wanting to knock the competition, I might just point out that, say, the romantic poets — Wordsworth and that crowd — could mosey along the countryside for days without feeling any pressure at all to come up with a sunset they considered worth writing about.
Also, the pay is limited. Two years ago, it was revealed that National Review was paying its deadline poet, William H. von Dreele, precisely the same per poem as The Nation magazine pays me — $100. I was shaken by that news.
For years, I've referred to the editor who retained my services for the Nation as "the wily and parsimonious Victor S. Navasky," but I'd always thought that National Review's William F. Buckley Jr. was, whatever our political differences, a considerate and generous-hearted man. I could only conclude that society as a whole undervalues deadline poets. Given those burdens, the last thing we deserved was a second president whose name rhymes with almost nothing beyond "push" and "tush."
I don't want to appear unappreciative. At times George W. Bush has seemed interested in making my life easier. He must have known before the appointments were made, for instance, that Condoleezza Rice's name fits exactly into the meter of "The March of the Siamese Children" from "The King and I" ("Condoleezza Rice, who is cold as ice, is precise with her advice") and that Alberto Gonzales rhymes with "loyal über alles."
Still, as the names of potential 2008 presidential candidates begin to get tossed around, you can't blame us for looking forward to having someone in the Oval Office who is more compatible with our needs. That is why I groan every time the eminently rhymable Bill Frist shoots himself in the foot. That is why I keep trying to reassure myself that the Republican base would never permit the nomination of Rudolph Giuliani. That is why, in a conversation about the possibility that the governor of Massachusetts could enter the race, I might burst out, "To me, Romney is just another Clinton."
Reading about the renewed interest lately in Al Gore, whom I once referred to in a poem as "a man-like object," I have to admit that his name rhymes with more than "bore" and "snore." My worries about the Democrats go beyond the growing sense that their leading candidate is literally another Clinton. They have a tendency to thrust forward candidates whose names we can't even imagine at this point in the process; witness Jimmy Carter and Howard Dean.
In my more pessimistic contemplations of the 2008 campaign, I see myself telling some political operative that I've made my peace with the possibility that the Democrats, desperate for some charisma, could turn to Barack Obama — a man whose rhymes I long ago used up in trying to deal with Osama bin Laden.
"But Obama's not the only Illinois contender," the operative says. "There's also the governor."
"The governor," he repeats. "Rod Blagojevich."
Calvin Trillin is the author, most recently, of "A Heckuva Job: More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme."